By Margaret Welsh
Pittsburgh Current Music Writer
In 2016, the celestial being known as moon baby put out a bangin’ EP called Hollywood Killed Tara Reid. Released at the very beginning of what we now call the Trump Era, that record was born from some personal tragedy and functioned as a kind of emotional purge. For Hollywood, and its raging dance pop followup Barbara, moon baby collaborated with producer Wise Blood (a.k.a. Chris Laufman). Their working relationship was good and productive, and also kind of aggressive and intense.
“His girlfriend calls us the Van Gogh and Gauguin of Pittsburgh music,” Sam Perry (the artist behind moon baby) told me in an August 2016 conversation. “Because it’s wild and ridiculous, and we fight, but what we fight about is really important to both of us.”
It came through in the music. Those tracks are party thumpers, danceable and very catchy and kind of claustrophobic: the listener is in some sense, Perry observes, trapped in the loop.
By contrast, her new single, “Yours Truly,” feels shimmery and dreamily expansive, full of a different kind of possibility. Where a track from Hollywood Killed Tara Reid might (not uninvitedly) grind up against you, “Yours Truly” locks eyes from across the dancefloor.
A few things have changed since 2016: for one thing, Perry relocated from Pittsburgh to Philly to be with her partner, who is in school at the University of Pennsylvania. And, from across the state, she began collaborating with Pittsburgh-based producer and longtime friend Troxum (a.k.a. Jan-Tosh Gerling)
“The stuff I was doing with Wise Blood, with Chris, was like, ‘You’re at a house party!’” she explains. “And this … is very, you’re at a rave, and you’re going to the afters, and then you might go to another … rave?
“They’re just different worlds. They’re completely valid and fun worlds, and they do exist together, which is nice.”
“Yours Truly” begins the roll-out of moon baby’s first full-length record, which she hopes will be out by early fall. A music video for “Yours Truly” will follow the single soon enough, as well as a full collection of remixes, and dance videos to go along with those.
Perry has had “Yours Truly” in her back pocket for years now. It never quite fit with the work she was doing with Wise Blood, but she’d perform it whenever she could, “cause I just thought it was the prettiest song I’d ever written,” she says.
“I’ve workshopped this song with so many producers and it’s never panned out,” she adds. “And [Troxum], his music is so left-field for me that I was like, ‘you know what, fuck it, I’m going to hit him up.’
“When I sent him the song he was like, ‘Wait, I get to do this song?’”
moon baby has reverence for Laufman’s work: “He’s really good at it, and he was very ready to go. I was the girl who plugged in,” she says. “With Troxum, the process was more back-and-forth, like, ‘We don’t really know what we’re doing but we kind of do, so we’re just going to floor it.
“When [he] finished ‘Yours Truly’ and sent it to me I was just like, ‘Well, I’ve never heard myself sound like this, and I need to sound like it more, like immediately,’” Perry says. “There was just a sense that it was a moment in time that was going to pass, and I needed to grab hold of it.”
Her new work also suggests a kind of a deepening of persona. In the past, Perry expressed a desire to elevate her drag with her music, and vice versa. But as the broader landscape of gender performance (as an artform and otherwise) has shifted considerably in the last several years, there’s a sense that she’s become more completely herself in a way that is (probably) palpable to anyone who has been paying attention.
“I think in 2015 and even 2013 when I was starting to release music, I was too early to that party,” she says. “And people couldn’t accept [my] music as music because most drag queens sing about putting makeup on. “Or,” she adds with a laugh, “they don’t sing at all, they just kind of yell at you.”
As a drag queen, Perry has always felt that she’s existed a bit outside of the drag bar. “And I think in a year like 2015 I was still really trying to fit a mold,” she says. “[I’ve] kind of just allowed myself to step away from that idea, and also look at my own gender journey, being non-binary.
“So, what does drag mean to me? What has it given to me? And what can I, from outside of it, give back to it?”
Listen to “Yours Truly” here